Public Sector Succession: A Strategic Approach to Sustaining Innovation

Schall, E.
Public Administration Review, Vol. 57, No. 1, January/February.

This article explores public-sector succession in the U.S. Most literature on succession and succession planning begin with a familiar lament: executive-level transition merits more attention than it gets in the literature. It is a serious matter that succession planning in the public sector, especially below the presidential level, has not received much attention in the literature. However, a more critical issue is that it has not received much attention in the actual world of public service. This omission, in part, reflects the fact that leaders in the public sector have themselves not taken the issue of succession planning seriously, except for obvious concerns like elections and mandates. Doing strategic executive searches in the public sector is difficult, but that is a secondary factor. What is primary is changing public-sector culture so that focusing on succession and beyond becomes a hallmark of strategic leadership. There are actually two challenges to managing succession: technology and turbulence. Public-sector leaders have limited access to search technology and search firms; they may not even understand the steps in a strategic search process. Public-sector leaders too often allow the turbulence to limit their scope of action, whereas private-sector leaders are expected to manage the turbulence.

Wagner Faculty